Essays About Losing a Loved One: Top 5 Examples
Writing essays about losing a loved one can be challenging; discover our helpful guide with essay examples and writing prompts to help you begin writing.
One of the most basic facts of life is that it is unpredictable. Nothing on this earth is permanent, and any one of us can pass away in the blink of an eye. But unfortunately, they leave behind many family members and friends who will miss them very much whenever someone dies.
The most devastating news can ruin our best days, affecting us negatively for the next few months and years. When we lose a loved one, we also lose a part of ourselves. Even if the loss can make you feel hopeless at times, finding ways to cope healthily, distract yourself, and move on while still honoring and remembering the deceased is essential.
5 Top Essay Examples
1. losing a loved one by louis barker, 2. personal reflections on coping and loss by adrian furnham , 3. losing my mom helped me become a better parent by trish mann, 4. reflection – dealing with grief and loss by joe joyce.
- 5. Will We Always Hurt on The Anniversary of Losing a Loved One? by Anne Peterson
1. Is Resilience Glorified in Society?
2. how to cope with a loss, 3. reflection on losing a loved one, 4. the stages of grief, 5. the circle of life, 6. how different cultures commemorate losing a loved one.
“I managed to keep my cool until I realized why I was seeing these familiar faces. Once the service started I managed to keep my emotions in tack until I saw my grandmother break down. I could not even look up at her because I thought about how I would feel in the same situation. Your life can change drastically at any moment. Do not take life or the people that you love for granted, you are only here once.”
Barker reflects on how he found out his uncle had passed away. The writer describes the events leading up to the discovery, contrasting the relaxed, cheerful mood and setting that enveloped the house with the feelings of shock, dread, and devastation that he and his family felt once they heard. He also recalls his family members’ different emotions and mannerisms at the memorial service and funeral.
“Most people like to believe that they live in a just, orderly and stable world where good wins out in the end. But what if things really are random? Counselors and therapists talk about the grief process and grief stages. Given that nearly all of us have experienced major loss and observed it in others, might one expect that people would be relatively sophisticated in helping the grieving?”
Furnham, a psychologist, discusses the stages of grief and proposes six different responses to finding out about one’s loss or suffering: avoidance, brief encounters, miracle cures, real listeners, practical help, and “giving no quarter.” He discusses this in the context of his wife’s breast cancer diagnosis, after which many people displayed these responses. Finally, Furnham mentions the irony that although we have all experienced and observed losing a loved one, no one can help others grieve perfectly.
“When I look in the mirror, I see my mom looking back at me from coffee-colored eyes under the oh-so-familiar crease of her eyelid. She is still here in me. Death does not take what we do not relinquish. I have no doubt she is sitting beside me when I am at my lowest telling me, ‘You can do this. You got this. I believe in you.’”
In Mann’s essay, she tries to see the bright side of her loss; despite the anguish she experienced due to her mother’s passing. Expectedly, she was incredibly depressed and had difficulty accepting that her mom was gone. But, on the other hand, she began to channel her mom into parenting her children, evoking the happy memories they once shared. She is also amused to see the parallels between her and her kids with her and her mother growing up.
“Now I understood that these feelings must be allowed expression for as long as a person needs. I realized that the “don’t cry” I had spoken on many occasions in the past was not of much help to grieving persons, and that when I had used those words I had been expressing more my own discomfort with feelings of grief and loss than paying attention to the need of mourners to express them.”
Joyce, a priest, writes about the time he witnessed the passing of his cousin on his deathbed. Having experienced this loss right as it happened, he was understandably shaken and realized that all his preachings of “don’t cry” were unrealistic. He compares this instance to a funeral he attended in Pakistan, recalling the importance of letting grief take its course while not allowing it to consume you.
5. Will We Always Hurt on The Anniversary of Losing a Loved One? by Anne Peterson
“Death. It’s certain. And we can’t do anything about that. In fact, we are not in control of many of the difficult circumstances of our lives, but we are responsible for how we respond to them. And I choose to honor their memory.”
Peterson discusses how she feels when she has to commemorate the anniversary of losing a loved one. She recalls the tragic deaths of her sister, two brothers, and granddaughter and describes her guilt and anger. Finally, she prays to God, asking him to help her; because of a combination of prayer and self-reflection, she can look back on these times with peace and hope that they will reunite one day.
6 Thought-Provoking Writing Prompts on Essays About Losing A Loved One
Society tends to praise those who show resilience and strength, especially in times of struggle, such as losing a loved one. However, praising a person’s resilience can prevent them from feeling the pain of loss and grief. This essay explores how glorifying resilience can prevent a person from healing from painful events. Be sure to include examples of this issue in society and your own experiences, if applicable.
Loss is always tricky, especially involving someone close to your heart. Reflect on your personal experiences and how you overcame your grief for an effective essay. Create an essay to guide readers on how to cope with loss. If you can’t pull ideas from your own experiences, research and read other people’s experiences with overcoming loss in life.
If you have experienced losing a loved one, use this essay to describe how it made you feel. Discuss how you reacted to this loss and how it has impacted who you are today. Writing an essay like this may be sensitive for many. If you don’t feel comfortable with this topic, you can write about and analyze the loss of a loved one in a book, movie, or TV show you have seen.
When we lose a loved one, grief is expected. There are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Discuss each one and how they all connect. You can write a compelling essay by including examples of how the different stages are manifested in books, television, and maybe even your own experiences.
Death is often regarded as a part of a so-called “circle of life,” most famously shown through the film, The Lion King . In summary, it explains that life goes on and always ends with death. For an intriguing essay topic, reflect on this phrase and discuss what it means to you in the context of losing a loved one. For example, perhaps keeping this in mind can help you cope with the loss.
Different cultures have different traditions, affected by geography, religion, and history. Funerals are no exception to this; in your essay, research how different cultures honor their deceased and compare and contrast them. No matter how different they may seem, try finding one or two similarities between your chosen traditions.
If you’d like to learn more, our writer explains how to write an argumentative essay in this guide.For help picking your next essay topic, check out our 20 engaging essay topics about family .
Martin is an avid writer specializing in editing and proofreading. He also enjoys literary analysis and writing about food and travel.
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Reflections on the Death of a Loved One
Table of contents, introduction, the shock and sorrow: initial reactions to the death of a loved one, the process of grief: navigating life after loss, life lessons from death: a new perspective, works cited.
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- Under The Influence
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- Death And Dying
8 Popular Essays About Death, Grief & the Afterlife
Joe Oliveto, BA in English
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Death is a strange topic for many reasons, one of which is the simple fact that different people can have vastly different opinions about discussing it.
Jump ahead to these sections:
Essays or articles about the death of a loved one, essays or articles about dealing with grief, essays or articles about the afterlife or near-death experiences.
Some fear death so greatly they don’t want to talk about it at all. However, because death is a universal human experience, there are also those who believe firmly in addressing it directly. This may be more common now than ever before due to the rise of the death positive movement and mindset.
You might believe there’s something to be gained from talking and learning about death. If so, reading essays about death, grief, and even near-death experiences can potentially help you begin addressing your own death anxiety. This list of essays and articles is a good place to start. The essays here cover losing a loved one, dealing with grief, near-death experiences, and even what someone goes through when they know they’re dying.
Losing a close loved one is never an easy experience. However, these essays on the topic can help someone find some meaning or peace in their grief.
1. ‘I’m Sorry I Didn’t Respond to Your Email, My Husband Coughed to Death Two Years Ago’ by Rachel Ward
Rachel Ward’s essay about coping with the death of her husband isn’t like many essays about death. It’s very informal, packed with sarcastic humor, and uses an FAQ format. However, it earns a spot on this list due to the powerful way it describes the process of slowly finding joy in life again after losing a close loved one.
Ward’s experience is also interesting because in the years after her husband’s death, many new people came into her life unaware that she was a widow. Thus, she often had to tell these new people a story that’s painful but unavoidable. This is a common aspect of losing a loved one that not many discussions address.
2. ‘Everything I know about a good death I learned from my cat’ by Elizabeth Lopatto
Not all great essays about death need to be about human deaths! In this essay, author Elizabeth Lopatto explains how watching her beloved cat slowly die of leukemia and coordinating with her vet throughout the process helped her better understand what a “good death” looks like.
For instance, she explains how her vet provided a degree of treatment but never gave her false hope (for instance, by claiming her cat was going to beat her illness). They also worked together to make sure her cat was as comfortable as possible during the last stages of her life instead of prolonging her suffering with unnecessary treatments.
Lopatto compares this to the experiences of many people near death. Sometimes they struggle with knowing how to accept death because well-meaning doctors have given them the impression that more treatments may prolong or even save their lives, when the likelihood of them being effective is slimmer than patients may realize.
Instead, Lopatto argues that it’s important for loved ones and doctors to have honest and open conversations about death when someone’s passing is likely near. This can make it easier to prioritize their final wishes instead of filling their last days with hospital visits, uncomfortable treatments, and limited opportunities to enjoy themselves.
3. ‘The terrorist inside my husband’s brain’ by Susan Schneider Williams
This article, which Susan Schneider Williams wrote after the death of her husband Robin Willians, covers many of the topics that numerous essays about the death of a loved one cover, such as coping with life when you no longer have support from someone who offered so much of it.
However, it discusses living with someone coping with a difficult illness that you don’t fully understand, as well. The article also explains that the best way to honor loved ones who pass away after a long struggle is to work towards better understanding the illnesses that affected them.
4. ‘Before I Go’ by Paul Kalanithi
“Before I Go” is a unique essay in that it’s about the death of a loved one, written by the dying loved one. Its author, Paul Kalanithi, writes about how a terminal cancer diagnosis has changed the meaning of time for him.
Kalanithi describes believing he will die when his daughter is so young that she will likely never have any memories of him. As such, each new day brings mixed feelings. On the one hand, each day gives him a new opportunity to see his daughter grow, which brings him joy. On the other hand, he must struggle with knowing that every new day brings him closer to the day when he’ll have to leave her life.
Coping with grief can be immensely challenging. That said, as the stories in these essays illustrate, it is possible to manage grief in a positive and optimistic way.
5. Untitled by Sheryl Sandberg
This piece by Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s current CEO, isn’t a traditional essay or article. It’s actually a long Facebook post. However, many find it’s one of the best essays about death and grief anyone has published in recent years.
She posted it on the last day of sheloshim for her husband, a period of 30 days involving intense mourning in Judaism. In the post, Sandberg describes in very honest terms how much she learned from those 30 days of mourning, admitting that she sometimes still experiences hopelessness, but has resolved to move forward in life productively and with dignity.
She explains how she wanted her life to be “Option A,” the one she had planned with her husband. However, because that’s no longer an option, she’s decided the best way to honor her husband’s memory is to do her absolute best with “Option B.”
This metaphor actually became the title of her next book. Option B , which Sandberg co-authored with Adam Grant, a psychologist at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, is already one of the most beloved books about death , grief, and being resilient in the face of major life changes. It may strongly appeal to anyone who also appreciates essays about death as well.
6. ‘My Own Life’ by Oliver Sacks
Grief doesn’t merely involve grieving those we’ve lost. It can take the form of the grief someone feels when they know they’re going to die.
Renowned physician and author Oliver Sacks learned he had terminal cancer in 2015. In this essay, he openly admits that he fears his death. However, he also describes how knowing he is going to die soon provides a sense of clarity about what matters most. Instead of wallowing in his grief and fear, he writes about planning to make the very most of the limited time he still has.
Belief in (or at least hope for) an afterlife has been common throughout humanity for decades. Additionally, some people who have been clinically dead report actually having gone to the afterlife and experiencing it themselves.
Whether you want the comfort that comes from learning that the afterlife may indeed exist, or you simply find the topic of near-death experiences interesting, these are a couple of short articles worth checking out.
7. ‘My Experience in a Coma’ by Eben Alexander
“My Experience in a Coma” is a shortened version of the narrative Dr. Eben Alexander shared in his book, Proof of Heaven . Alexander’s near-death experience is unique, as he’s a medical doctor who believes that his experience is (as the name of his book suggests) proof that an afterlife exists. He explains how at the time he had this experience, he was clinically braindead, and therefore should not have been able to consciously experience anything.
Alexander describes the afterlife in much the same way many others who’ve had near-death experiences describe it. He describes starting out in an “unresponsive realm” before a spinning white light that brought with it a musical melody transported him to a valley of abundant plant life, crystal pools, and angelic choirs. He states he continued to move from one realm to another, each realm higher than the last, before reaching the realm where the infinite love of God (which he says is not the “god” of any particular religion) overwhelmed him.
8. “One Man's Tale of Dying—And Then Waking Up” by Paul Perry
The author of this essay recounts what he considers to be one of the strongest near-death experience stories he’s heard out of the many he’s researched and written about over the years. The story involves Dr. Rajiv Parti, who claims his near-death experience changed his views on life dramatically.
Parti was highly materialistic before his near-death experience. During it, he claims to have been given a new perspective, realizing that life is about more than what his wealth can purchase. He returned from the experience with a permanently changed outlook.
This is common among those who claim to have had near-death experiences. Often, these experiences leave them kinder, more understanding, more spiritual, and less materialistic.
This short article is a basic introduction to Parti’s story. He describes it himself in greater detail in the book Dying to Wake Up , which he co-wrote with Paul Perry, the author of the article.
Essays About Death: Discussing a Difficult Topic
It’s completely natural and understandable to have reservations about discussing death. However, because death is unavoidable, talking about it and reading essays and books about death instead of avoiding the topic altogether is something that benefits many people. Sometimes, the only way to cope with something frightening is to address it.
- Coping With Grief
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Narrative Essay on Losing a Loved One
Losing a loved one is a profound experience that reshapes our lives in ways we never imagined. It’s a journey through grief that challenges our resilience, alters our perspectives, and ultimately teaches us about the depth of love and the impermanence of life. This narrative essay explores the emotional odyssey of losing a loved one, weaving through the stages of grief, the search for meaning, and the slow, often painful, journey towards healing.
The Unthinkable Reality
It was an ordinary Tuesday morning when the phone rang, shattering the normalcy of my life. The voice on the other end was calm yet distant, bearing the kind of news that instantly makes your heart sink. My beloved grandmother, who had been battling a long illness, had passed away in her sleep. Despite the inevitability of this moment, I was not prepared for the crushing weight of the reality that I would never see her again. The initial shock was numbing, a protective cloak that shielded me from the full impact of my loss.
The Onslaught of Grief
In the days that followed, grief washed over me in waves. At times, it was a quiet sadness that lingered in the background of my daily activities. At others, it was a torrential downpour of emotions, leaving me gasping for air. I struggled with the finality of death, replaying our last conversations, wishing for one more moment to express my love and gratitude. Anger, confusion, and disbelief intermingled, forming a tumultuous storm of feelings I could neither control nor understand.
The rituals of mourning—funeral arrangements, sympathy cards, and memorial services—offered a semblance of structure amidst the chaos. Yet, they also served as stark reminders of the gaping void left by my grandmother’s absence. Stories and memories shared by friends and family painted a rich tapestry of her life, highlighting the profound impact she had on those around her. Through tear-stained eyes, I began to see the extent of my loss, not just as a personal tragedy but as a collective one.
The Search for Meaning
As the initial shock subsided, my grief evolved into a quest for meaning. I sought solace in religion, philosophy, and the arts, searching for answers to the unanswerable questions of life and death. I learned that grief is a universal experience, a fundamental part of the human condition that transcends cultures, religions, and time periods. This realization brought a sense of connection to those who had walked this path before me, offering a glimmer of comfort in my darkest moments.
I also found meaning in honoring my grandmother’s legacy. She was a woman of incredible strength, kindness, and wisdom, who had touched the lives of many. By embodying her values and continuing her work, I could keep her spirit alive. Volunteering, pursuing passions that we shared, and passing on her stories to younger generations became ways to heal and to make sense of a world without her.
The Journey Towards Healing
Healing from the loss of a loved one is neither linear nor predictable. There were days when I felt overwhelmed by sadness, and others when I could smile at fond memories. I learned to accept that grief is not something to be “overcome” but rather integrated into my life. It has become a part of who I am, shaping my understanding of love, loss, and the preciousness of life.
Support from friends, family, and sometimes strangers, who shared their own stories of loss, played a crucial role in my healing process. Their empathy and understanding provided a safe space to express my feelings, to cry, to laugh, and to remember. Counseling and support groups offered additional perspectives and coping strategies, highlighting the importance of seeking help and connection in times of sorrow.
Reflections on Love and Loss
Through this journey, I have come to understand that the pain of loss is a testament to the depth of our love. Grieving deeply means we have loved deeply, and this is both the curse and the beauty of human connections. The scars of loss never truly fade, but they become bearable, interwoven with the love and memories we hold dear.
Losing a loved one is a transformative experience that teaches us about resilience, compassion, and the enduring power of love. It reminds us to cherish the time we have with those we love, to express our feelings openly, and to live fully in the present moment. While the absence of a loved one leaves an irreplaceable void, their influence continues to shape our lives in profound ways.
In closing, the journey through grief is uniquely personal, yet universally shared. It challenges us to find strength we didn’t know we had, to seek connection in our shared humanity, and to discover meaning in the face of loss. Though we may never “get over” the loss of a loved one, we learn to carry their legacy forward, finding solace in the love that never dies but transforms over time.
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Personal Grief and Loss Essay
The complicated nature of life explains why grieving is a necessary process. The loss of a beloved person can trigger numerous emotions such as guilt, anger, disbelief, and sadness. Coping with sudden death can result in a major challenge. It is agreeable that most of these reactions and emotional responses to loss are natural. That being the case, people should help one another throughout the mourning process in order to find new meaning and move on with life. Those who are in emotional pain should also be allowed to cry in order to support the healing process. The death of my favorite aunt affected me significantly. After the event, it took me five days to accept the fact that my aunt was gone. The purpose of this paper, therefore, is to give a personal experience of loss, grief, and mourning following my aunt’s untimely demise.
The most memorable loss occurred when I was 21 years of age. This was after the death of my maternal aunt. She was only 10 years older. Her untimely death occurred when I was in the United States. Our age gap explains why we used to be close to one another. We could do many things together and support each other. She was shot four times while in Colombia and died instantly.
Although it was hard to explain the circumstances that led to her death, forensic investigations revealed that she had been murdered by robbers for an unknown reason. The victim was a mother-figure to me. As an aunt, she guided, empowered, and encouraged me to pursue most of my dreams. This analysis shows that I was emotionally close to her.
After the loss, I experienced numerous emotional, spiritual, and psychological challenges. Such feelings occurred for several weeks after my aunt’s death. Several reasons can be presented to support this argument. The first one is that I was unable to pursue my goals. This development made it hard for me to meet the needs of my underage daughter. The second example is that I become stressed and troubled. This emotional response occurred after I received the news of her death. The third example is that I was unable to interact with other people. This means that my social competencies were affected greatly. After the death, it took me five days to accept the fact that she was gone. Throughout this period, I could dial her cell-phone number to confirm that she was not with us anymore. This was the case because I felt stressed and discontented with everything in life. The pain in my body was also unbearable.
I was unable to focus on my spiritual goals and mental status. However, I managed to cope with the loss after several months due to the support received from different family members. For instance, my husband was helpful throughout this troubling period. It should also be observed that my failure to attend her funeral might have affected my healing process. This is the reason why individuals who have lost their beloved ones should be advised, guided, and supported accordingly.
My mourning process affected the people around me in a number of ways. For instance, I was not able to support or raise up my young daughter. I was also unable to interact freely with my husband and relatives. I also found it hard to interact with my colleagues, relatives, and friends. The good news was that most of my family members were helpful during this emotional period. This was the case because they empowered me to deal with my grief and be in a position to pursue my aims. They were also keen to console and encourage me to remain strong. It is also worth noting that none of the persons around me was hurtful during the time.
The major rituals considered during the time of loss were prayers and fasting. These practices are known to support the mourning process (Burke & Neimeyer, 2014). I also began to smoke as a way of getting rid of stress. I used different links to feel connected to the deceased person. For instance, my grandmother managed to send my aunt’s graduation ring to me. I always wear the ring as a grim reminder of my beloved aunt. I also possess the clothes she was wearing at the time of the murder. I have never washed them and they are bloodstains.
Holdsworth (2015) asserts that human beings use various techniques to manage their lamentation processes. The first technique that can be used to describe my mourning process is that of writing (Eyetsemitan, 2017). It is evident that my aunt had written a letter to me. Due to the nature of her death, I had not responded to her letter. This is something that has been haunting me over the years. I also have many things in my heart that I was never given the opportunity to say to my aunt. For instance, I did not tell her how she was loved and missed. I have many photographs that remind me of our experiences together.
I strongly believed that a number of rituals can still help with the loss today. For instance, I would be happy to be given a chance to visit her grave. I would mourn and pray on her grave in order to complete my mourning process. Personally, I think that the intensity of my loss could not be sensationalized by the media. This is the reason why I decided to engage in smoking. These aspects show conclusively that my mourning process was complicated (Burke & Neimeyer, 2014). This argument can be supported by the fact that it is several years after the loss and I am yet to heal completely. I also experienced intense rumination, pain, and sorrow during the period. The decision to hold on to her belongings also explains why the process was complicated.
It is agreeable that this loss occurred at a time when I was not aware of the nature of suffering (Hordan & Litz, 2014). With more knowledge, I would have kept myself busy, interacted with more people, and read different materials to support the mourning process. I would have also attended her funeral in order to stop feeling guilty.
There are various complicated mourning issues that have kept me stuck in my mourning process. The first one is that it has taken me many years to be in a position to talk about my aunt. It has been hard for me to accept the fact that she is no longer around us. The second issue is that minor events or memories can trigger intense or painful reactions (Worden, 2008). Sometimes I can start to cry after remembering her.
This course has made it easier for me to learn a number of things about myself. The first observation is that the loss of a close relative or friend can affect me negatively. Such an occurrence can make it hard for me to achieve my goals or interact with others. The second lesson is that I can address most of my emotional and psychological challenges. This is the case because I managed to deal with this loss successfully. It is also clear that I have gained numerous ideas and concepts about mourning from this course. For instance, I have known that individuals should be guided and empowered throughout the period (Eyetsemitan, 2017). People should also be allowed to cry and mourn throughout their lamentation periods.
My discussion shows clearly that my aunt was like a sister to me and a big confidant who supported everything I was doing. This means that she was always close to me. Since she was young, we used to share ideas and live like sisters. Despite these feelings of pain and anguish, it should be observed that the mourning process empowered me to develop better concepts that can be used to support others. The ideas gained from this course can also meet the needs of persons who have lost their friends or relatives. My experience after the loss of my aunt echoes most of the challenges faced by many mourning persons. It is, therefore, necessary for those who are in grief to keep themselves busy and interact with others to prevent any suicidal thoughts. Mourners should also never be avoided. Consequently, these lessons will empower me to guide others in the future.
Burke, L. A., & Neimeyer, R. A. (2014). Spiritual distress in bereavement: Evolution of a research program. Religions, 5, 1087-1115. Web.
Eyetsemitan, F. (2017). Employee grief, workplace culture, and implications for worker productivity and psychopathology. Acta Psychopathologica, 3 (4), 1-3. Web.
Holdsworth, M. (2015). Bereaved carers’ accounts of the end of life and the role of care providers in a ‘good death’: A qualitative study. Palliative Medicine, 29 (9), 834-841.
Hordan, A. H., & Litz, B. T. (2014). Prolonged grief disorder: Diagnostic, assessment, and treatment considerations. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 45 (3), 180-187. Web.
Worden, J. W. (2008). Grief counseling and grief therapy: A handbook for the mental health practitioner (4th ed.). New York, NY: Springer Publishing.
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College essay topic- losing a loved one Answered
Is it a good idea to write about losing a loved one. That event really impacted me, and changed me as a person. Should I write about it ? I feel confused about how to structure my essay
Earn karma by helping others:
Hi! This is a great question!
You can certainly write about losing a loved one and how it changed you. But I have to warn you about one thing. College essays are meant for you to reveal an aspect of you that the admission officers can't see from your academics. I am saying this because a lot of students will write an essay about losing a loved one but instead of reflecting on how it impacted them, they just end up writing a biography of the person itself. Colleges don't want a person's biography; they want to know more about you. So, in your essay, you can briefly talk about the death of the loved one but quickly transition into a reflection of how that event has changed you. Make sure to include specific feelings, thoughts, and anecdotes in your essay to make it come alive.
I am sorry for your loss and good luck with your essay!
Thank you for the sweet message. That's actually very thoughtful. Sometimes we get diverted from the main topic, I will keep that advice in mind
Your welcome!! I also want to say that colleges receive a lots of these types of essays about the death of a loved one. I want emphasize here again the importance of using personal stories, thoughts, etc to make this essay unique and personal to you. Avoid using general sentences and diction. Good luck!
Yes thank you, will keep that in mind. Are you in clg ?
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Should You Write Your College Essay About Losing a Loved One?
Admissions officer reviewed by Ben Bousquet, M.Ed Former Vanderbilt University
Written by Alex McNeil, MA Admissions Consultant
Losing a loved one, especially in high school, can upend how you view the world.
It’s only natural that you’d want to write your Common Application personal statement about it.
Writing about death is always difficult, and it is especially difficult in a college application essay. It can take twice the time and effort to craft a personal statement about so emotional a topic.
Since it’s a more challenging topic, you should be sure that writing about the death of a loved one is the right choice for you.
While some advice may say otherwise, writing about traumatic experiences does not increase your chances of admission, so don’t feel forced to write about the death of a loved one just because you think that’s what admissions offices want to see.
You should write about your loss if it’s the topic that will allow you to tell your most authentic story.
So before you begin writing, consider a few critical questions to determine whether (and how) you should write your college essay about losing a loved one.
Questions to ask yourself before writing your college essay about death
As much as admissions officers are humans who care about your wellbeing, they also have criteria with which they must evaluate your personal statement. While they will empathize with your grief, at the end of the day, your essay still needs to hold its own against thousands of others.
Sometimes essays about death can do just that, poignantly and with heart. But other times, students aren’t ready. And that’s okay too.
Ask yourself the following questions and think honestly about your answers.
1. Are you really ready to think, write, and revise critically?
Grief can muddle your ideas into incomprehensible gray blobs. Your heightened sensitivity may also make the critical revision process exhausting.
But your college essay still has to shine with clarity and coherence .
It’s important that you ask yourself if you’re ready to do the detailed writing and editing that is required of personal statements.
2. Can you find a respectful balance that allows you to center yourself?
Students most frequently make the mistake of writing essays that center the person who has passed rather than themselves.
While a tribute to your loved one is a beautiful thing, your college essay has a major job to do. It needs to tell admissions officers about you.
For whatever reason, if you can’t bring the focus to yourself, you might consider writing about another topic.
3. Will you be able to process before and while writing? And if it’s not that hard to process, should you consider a different topic?
Writing is a powerful way to process tragedy. The very act can help you heal and find new direction. But the process can be intimate, and you may not want to share the information with strangers.
Your college essay also requires you to go beyond reflection to craft a thoughtful and organized essay.
So be sure that you’ve reached a point in your journey where you feel comfortable working through and writing about difficult emotions.
Alternatively, some students write about losing people who they weren’t close to and whose deaths didn’t significantly impact them. They do this solely because they think that writing about trauma helps you get into college, but it doesn’t. If you find that writing about your loss does not actually have a profound effect on your emotions, then there is likely a different essay topic awaiting you.
4. What should you do if you’ve decided you’re not ready to write your college essay about losing a loved one but still want the admissions committee to know?
You could consider how your story fits into any supplemental essays you’re writing. Or you can use the Common Application “Additional Information” section. Feel free to include whatever context you are comfortable sharing. This section can be a simple explanation and does not need to follow a specific format.
How you can write a college essay about losing a loved one
If you’ve decided that writing your college essay about losing a loved one is the right choice for you, then we have a few tips.
1. Determine what this topic should reveal about you to the admissions committee.
Begin your writing process by asking yourself what you want the admissions committee to learn about you from this story of loss.
2. Pinpoint specific examples, details, memories, or vignettes.
Root your narrative in specifics rather than generalities about you and your loved one to show, not tell your admissions officers why they were important to you.
3. End on a note of hope, resilience, or forward movement.
The reality is that even with a sad topic, you want your admissions officers to leave your essay thinking about you in a positive way so that they can picture you being an active member of their campus. Your personal statement should therefore conclude on some kind of hopeful or resilient note.
Be gracious about your limits. Write about your loss only if you feel ready and if you truly believe that it’s the story you need to tell admissions committees.
If you do choose to write your college essay about losing a loved one, then you should start early and leave plenty of extra time for writing and revision. What you’ve been through is surely difficult, so be gentle on yourself as you write and revise.
You can find more about writing your personal statement on our How to Write a College Essay post.
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The Incredible Power of a Cohesive College Application
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5 Tips If You’re Writing Your College Essay On Losing A Loved One
Last year we published an essay by Holly Kellner titled, “Why Having Conversations or Writing College Essays On Your Story of Loss Is Okay.” Since then we’ve gotten emails asking for tips on how to write your college essay on your loss or asking for comments/edits on drafts themselves.
While we’re happy to help edit as many college essay drafts as we possibly can, we also want to make sure that all the information you need is in one place. Over the next few weeks we’ll be publishing content that’s directly related to the college application process — including the essay, financial aid and any other resources that will help make this process easier.
For starters here are some tips to keep in mind when working on your first outline or draft for your college essay:
Stay True To Your Story
The biggest advantage at your disposal when writing an essay about your loss is that you’re the only one who has ever experienced your specific kind of loss. (Trust me: this is an advantage) Even if you have siblings who all lost the same parent or sibling, you’re the only one who has lost your specific relationship. Stay true to how the loss impacted you.
Always Go Back To You
You want to make sure that you’re telling the story of who you are, this is what admissions officers want to read. Think of it this way, you’re encouraging someone to read an essay that’s told through the lens of a loss but that looks directly at who you are because of it.
Instead of speaking in generalizations about what grief or loss mean to you, tell us specific stories about how what you’ve experienced is specific to you.
The Bad Days Count Too
Not all stories of loss or grief go back to incredible epiphanies. Not all stories of loss or grief are uphill stories either. Lots of experiences go back to hitting a specific kind of rock bottom and building your way back from that. Your stories are hard and real, don’t be afraid to show the imperfect pieces too, they add character to your story.
Don’t Be Ashamed
Don’t let anyone tell you that this is a cliche essay topic to write about. It’s not. It’s 100% not. Your story of loss is unique and probably the most life changing thing you’ve experienced. It’s helped turn you into the person you are today and it’s a story worth telling.
If you have any questions regarding the college essay writing process, feel free to email us at [email protected] (Subject: College Essay) or tweet us your questions, @2DamnYoung .
If you have any other tips you’d like to add, comment down below!
Vivian, I just want to thank you so much for posting this. My son is 17 years old, a senior in high school and looking at colleges. We lost his father when he was 10 years old. He had a heart attack, it was sudden and so unexpected that our lives changed in an instant. This information will be very helpful in writing an essay, hoping for some type of scholarship. Although it seems that most scholarships for children with a deceased parent are only if the parent was in the military, died on 9/11, had cancer, was a police officer, was a firefighter, etc. My son has done a great job in school, taking some honor classes and keeping his grades up, along with working part time and playing baseball for our town. I really want him to be able to go to the college of his choice, and would never want to hold him back because of my financial difficulties. Just wanted to say thanks again, this is very helpful. If you know of any scholarships that he may be eligible for, please reach out to me. Thanks. Julie [email protected]
Vivian, these tips are really insightful. It seems like a great way to ensure that people see the reason behind your writing. Something I’ve heard that helps a lot of people is having your paper read by other people and getting their opinions.
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Sheryl Sandberg’s essay on grief is one of the best things I’ve read about marriage
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When my closest friend got married a few years ago, I asked her if anything felt different after the ceremony. "Yes," she said. "Realizing that my best-case scenario is now that I die first." Her tone was flip, and we both laughed. But there was truth to what she said.
I love my husband so much that I hesitate to write about him — it feels unseemly, like bragging. It is impossibly painful to even imagine life without him: his presence is the source of my greatest joy in life, just as the idea of losing him is one of my worst fears. The best-case scenario is that I die first.
Sheryl Sandberg lost her beloved husband, Dave Goldberg, 30 days ago. To mark that occasion, she has written one of the best essays I have ever read about what it feels like to confront that terrible fear, and to deal with the profound grief that comes from losing someone you love. Her description of her grief since Goldberg's death feels true not just as a statement of what it is like to lose someone you love, but also what it means to deeply love someone, and the value that our loved ones hold in our lives.
A childhood friend of mine who is now a rabbi recently told me that the most powerful one-line prayer he has ever read is: "Let me not die while I am still alive." I would have never understood that prayer before losing Dave . Now I do. I think when tragedy occurs, it presents a choice. You can give in to the void, the emptiness that fills your heart, your lungs, constricts your ability to think or even breathe. Or you can try to find meaning. These past thirty days, I have spent many of my moments lost in that void. And I know that many future moments will be consumed by the vast emptiness as well. But when I can, I want to choose life and meaning.
Strangely enough, the perfect companion piece to Sandberg's essay is not about loss, but about the joy of having children. Michelle Goldberg (no relation to Dave Goldberg) wrote in New York Magazine last week about what inspired her and her husband to grow their family.
"Not long ago," she writes , "I learned the Arabic word Ya'aburnee . Literally, 'you bury me,' it means wanting to die before a loved one so as not to have to face the world without him or her in it."
Goldberg realized that those words captured her feelings for her husband, and that having a child would be a way to bring more of him into the world — and a way to hold on to part of him if someday she lost him.
Goldberg and her husband now have two children, and they have enriched her life, she writes, in ways she would never have believed possible. "Before there was one person in the world for whom I would use the word Ya'aburnee , and now there are three."
Reading Sandberg's essay with Goldberg's is a reminder that the pain of loss is a worthwhile price to pay for the joy of love and marriage. Although Sandberg's husband has died, the life they built together still remains. Her essay closes with a moving promise to support what they built, and the children they had together, even as she mourns him:
I can’t even express the gratitude I feel to my family and friends who have done so much and reassured me that they will continue to be there. In the brutal moments when I am overtaken by the void, when the months and years stretch out in front of me endless and empty, only their faces pull me out of the isolation and fear. My appreciation for them knows no bounds. I was talking to one of these friends about a father-child activity that Dave is not here to do. We came up with a plan to fill in for Dave. I cried to him, "But I want Dave. I want option A." He put his arm around me and said, "Option A is not available. So let’s just kick the shit out of option B." Dave, to honor your memory and raise your children as they deserve to be raised, I promise to do all I can to kick the shit out of option B. And even though sheloshim has ended, I still mourn for option A. I will always mourn for option A. As Bono sang, "There is no end to grief . . . and there is no end to love." I love you, Dave.
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Home — Essay Samples — Life — Grief — Grief And Its Effects On People
Grief and Its Effects on People
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Published: Mar 18, 2021
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Loss of a loved one essay
Losing a loved one is an indescribable experience that shakes the very foundation of our existence. The pain and grief that accompany such a loss are deeply personal and can leave us feeling lost and alone. In this essay, I aim to explore the multifaceted aspects of losing a loved one, offering insights and guidance on how to navigate the challenging journey of healing and finding solace. Join me as we delve into the depths of grief, honour cherished memories, and discover a path towards renewed hope.
A Rollercoaster of Emotions Grief is a complex and dynamic process that affects each person differently. It encompasses a range of emotions, including sadness, anger, guilt, and confusion. It is important to acknowledge and accept these feelings as natural and valid responses to loss. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to grieve.
A Lifeline in the Storm During times of grief, finding healthy coping mechanisms becomes crucial. Engaging in activities such as journaling, exercising, or seeking support from friends and family can provide an outlet for emotions. It’s important to allow yourself permission to grieve and to seek solace in the comfort of loved ones.
The Healing Power of Remembrance:
Honouring Their Legacy Remembering and honouring the life of your loved one is an essential part of the healing process. Cherish their memories through storytelling, creating a scrapbook, or dedicating a special space in your home. By celebrating their life, you keep their spirit alive while finding solace in the beautiful moments you shared.
Navigating Rituals and Funeral Traditions:
Finding Meaning and Closure Funeral rituals and traditions play a significant role in helping us process our loss and find closure. Whether it’s a religious ceremony, a personalized memorial, or scattering ashes in a meaningful location, these rituals provide a sense of comfort and allow us to say our final goodbyes. Embrace the rituals that resonate with you and your loved one’s beliefs.
The Power of Connection The journey through grief should never be travelled alone. Reach out to support groups, grief counsellors, or therapists who specialize in bereavement. They can provide a safe space to share your feelings and help you navigate the challenging terrain of grief. Remember, seeking support is a sign of strength, not weakness.
Finding Meaning in Loss:
Transformation and Growth While loss is undeniably painful, it can also be an opportunity for personal growth and transformation. Embrace the lessons learned through the process of grieving and discover a newfound appreciation for life. Allow yourself to find meaning in the loss by channelling your emotions towards positive endeavours or by helping others who are going through similar experiences.
Navigating Anniversaries and Triggers:
Embracing Resilience Anniversaries and triggers can reignite grief and intensify feelings of loss . It is essential to acknowledge these moments and be gentle with yourself. Plan ahead, surround yourself with supportive people, and engage in self-care activities to help you navigate these challenging times. Remember, resilience is built through adversity.
The Journey Towards Healing Healing is a gradual and nonlinear process, and there is no predetermined timeline for grief. It’s essential to be patient with yourself and celebrate even the smallest victories. As you embark on the path towards healing, remember that hope will be your guiding light, leading you to a place where joy and cherished memories coexist with the pain of loss.
Losing a loved one is undoubtedly one of life’s most challenging experiences. In this essay, we have explored the vast landscape of grief, from the rollercoaster of emotions to the healing power of remembrance. By embracing support, finding healthy coping mechanisms, and seeking meaning in loss, we can embark on a journey towards healing and renewal. Though the pain may never completely dissipate, the love and memories we hold in our hearts will guide us towards a life that embraces joy once more. Remember, you are not alone in this journey, and healing is possible.
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Articles & Advice > College Admission > Blog
How to Approach Tragedy and Loss in Your College Essay
You may feel compelled to write about a difficult subject for your college essay. Here are some tips to write about hard topics with respect and impact.
by Keaghan Turner, PhD Partner, Turner+Turner College Consulting
Last Updated: Mar 16, 2023
Originally Posted: Aug 5, 2019
Tragedy and loss are not easy subjects to broach in writing at all, let alone very public writing that someone else will read or hear spoken. Writing about tragedy and loss certainly won’t be for everyone, so make sure you give it some real thought before you try to dive in and put your jumbled, high-emotion thoughts to page. But if a difficult topic is the one that compels you to write a great admission essay, then it can be done—as long as it’s done the right way. Before we explore the key elements to writing about traumatic experiences the right way, here’s some perspective through a personal story of loss.
The struggles with writing about loss
One spring, there was a rash of suicide attempts at a local high school in my community. Two of them were successful; others were not. The first time I wrote about this loss was for a memorial service. This is the second time. It’ll never be “easy” to write about, just as what happened will never make sense to anyone who knew the victims. How can we use words for trauma and grief in order to make sense of what doesn’t make sense?
One student, in a mature spirit of activism, wrote an open letter to the school district office, which was posted and reposted all over social media until there was a school assembly featuring officials, professionals, and faith leaders open to the whole community. The Parent Teacher Organization gave out green ribbons to raise awareness about depression and other mental illnesses . Most immediately for the teens in my town, the words appeared via social media posts. That was how the students wrote about their loss in the weeks following the first (then six weeks later, the second) tragedy. Some students will write about it for their college essays, and they’ll need help. It’ll be important to them to do a good job, to honor the memories of their friends who passed away, to get it “right.”
To say the least, people had mixed feelings about these posts and reposts; about what should be discussed and how; and how to protect the grieving families from more suffering. It’s a small community, and these were shockingly sad events. The fact is, these tragedies have already fundamentally redefined the high school experience of the students in my town. The ripples might be subtle or pronounced, but they exist. Peers will mark time using these losses (midterms happened before , prom happened after ), and the experience will not be forgotten; it’s now part of their life stories.
Related: Mental Health: What Is It and How You Can Find Help
How to tackle writing about tragedy the right way
Difficult topics can ( and should) be broached in admission essays because they are a part of life that can’t be ignored and often play a huge part in defining who we are as people. What I told those students about handling loss with their words is summed up below, and it also applies to writers tackling any kind of special need, medical condition, or family struggle in their college essay.
Be honest and straightforward
You don’t need to have been super close to a tragedy to be affected by it or to write about it effectively. But don’t pretend you were affected in a way you weren’t; you’ll come across as phony. If you’re moved to write about a painful event, there’s a genuine reason behind that impulse. That reason is good enough; figure out what it is. That being said, powerful life events require quick-hitting, direct sentences. Be like Hemingway, my professors used to say—keep your sentences short; they have more punch that way. You don’t need lots of flowery or figurative language to convey that your subject is a big deal—but at the same time, do make sure you’re showing, not telling, in your writing . Connecting emotionally is about expressing that time through actions and events, not just thoughts and feelings.
Find your message with the right words
Superfluous language gets in the way of gravity. Be ready to prune drafts until you feel you’ve found the right semantic fit for the intention behind your words. Your essay also needs a theme, a call, a purpose. The point isn’t simply to narrate a sad story in order to show the reader how sad it is (e.g., your essay’s message is not that teen suicide is tragic); rather, the point is to connect the sad story to the essay prompt you've chosen to address. The event itself essentially takes a backseat to the points you want to make about what it means .
This is really the one ultimate rule, and if you do this, the other stuff can be worked out. In the context of the college essay, respect usually involves approaching your subject matter somewhat anonymously. Names aren’t necessary. If you’re engaging a serious, painful topic—and it involves others—be careful to write as circumspectly and thoughtfully as you can. When in doubt, ask someone whose judgment you trust (like a teacher or parent) to check it out for you.
Seek help for you or others
Is it easy to write about hard realities? Not at all—not in any context, not for anyone. But if you’re brave enough to try, you may find it to be transformative and therapeutic to articulate your experience as you process your grief and begin to heal. And the most important thing to remember is to take those emotions and experiences and use them to help others in the future before other tragedies strike. Writing about these situations can often shed light and inspire others to help people in need, which in the end is more crucial than anything else. If you have been affected by tragedy or are worried about a friend who is struggling, help is available. Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-8255 or a trusted adult.
For more advice on college essays, check out our Application Essay Clinic , or if you’re in need of mental health advice, check out the tag “mental health.”
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About Keaghan Turner, PhD
Keaghan Turner, PhD, is Assistant Professor of Digital Writing and Humanistic Studies at Coastal Carolina University . She has taught writing and literature at small liberal arts colleges and state flagship universities for the past 20 years. As a managing partner of Turner+Turner College Consulting, LLC, Dr. Turner also counsels high school students on all aspects of their college admission portfolios, leads writing workshops, and generally tries to encourage students to believe in the power of their own writing voices. You can contact Dr. Turner on Instagram @consultingprofessors or by email at [email protected] .
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Losing a Loved One
Losing a loved one is a significant and a painful occurrence. After an individual loses a loved one, he/she may experience different difficulties and emotional situations such as grief, shock, and anger. I once lost a friend whom I loved so much and the experience was terrifying and devastating. However, I was able to overcome the grief thanks to the support I received from my family and friends. One should understand grief is a normal reaction to loss of a loved one. In fact, psychologists say that accepting grief experiences and allowing one to feel whatever emotions are there after loss of a loved one is a normal process of grieving, and it helps a person to recover quickly from the loss. There is no specific way that a person is supposed to grief after losing a loved one. However, there are a number of ways, which psychologists advise that one can use to cope with the pain.
Grief is a normal reaction to loss (Smith & Segal 2). It is important to note that, grief is experienced when a person loses a loved one through death. Therefore, the emotions that an individual feels after loss of a job, a good friendship, a pet, or a home are not termed as grief. Studies indicate that grief is quite common among women and children. Nonetheless, when one loses a loved person, he/she usually undergoes the grief process. Sometimes, an individual may undergo a prolonged grief, commonly referred by psychologists as complicated grief (Smith & Segal 2). Grief is termed as complicated when an individual’s reaction to loss of a loved one prolongs for more than one year. Even though there is no specific period that an individual should grief for a loved one, this type of grief has a potential of disrupting an individual’s life, close relationships, personal beliefs, and to some extent, causing mental illness. Complicated grief occurs when a bereaved person starts to experience continuous desire for his/her dead loved one. As a way of supporting an individual experiencing complicated grief after loss of a loved one, I would advice the individual to seek professional help from a psychiatrist or help the individual seek such help. Psychiatrist counseling is very important to a person suffering from complicated grief because it assists such a person to avoid suffering from anxiety, stress, or depression.
When I learnt about the death of my friend, I was very shocked. I did could not understand why I had to loss such a dear person in my life. It was hard to belief that my friend was dead. I realized that shock and disbelief are some of the first signs of grief that one displays after losing a loved one. In fact, some people display disbelief by going to an extent of waiting for their loved ones to show up. After accepting that my friend was dead, I started feeling sad. My sadness entailed feelings of loneliness, despair, emptiness, yearning, and a lot of crying. Sometimes, I also felt angered and guilt.
When an individual loses a loved one, he/she may undergo some of these stages. The first stage is denial. This involves lack of acceptance of the situation. The next stage is anger. In this stage, a person starts to question the occurrence of death and looking for whom to blame for the death. After overcoming anger, an individual may start bargaining. This entails trying to look for ways of reversing the entire process, including death. Afterwards, an individual can go into a depression state. The last stage is acceptance. Here, an individual comes into term with the entire occurrence, and finally accepts life without the existence of a loved one (Smith & Segal 4). When I lost my friend, I underwent some of the aforementioned stages although I was not aware that I was undergoing the grief process. By refusing to accept that my friend was dead, I was undergoing the first stage of grief, denial. I then underwent the second stage of grief: anger. This was during the times when I was feeling angry about the death. I then started feeling guilty for some of the bad things I had done to my friend. I started wishing for my friend to be alive so that I would correct my mistakes by doing good things to her. Here, I was undergoing the bargaining process. In the end, I accepted that she was dead, and that I could not do anything about it.
After the loss of a close person, an individual should be supported in various ways in order to help him/her cope with the loss. Mourning can be one of the ways of supporting a person who has lost a loved one. Unlike grief, mourning is the external expression of loss of a loved one (Coping with Loss of a Loved One). The way we mourn is determined by our religious, cultural, societal, and family beliefs and customs. However, regardless of the cultural, societal, or religious beliefs, during the mourning period, the bereaved person should not be subjected to frustrating or depressing situations. Family members and close friends should offer unconditional support during this period. Less frustration and depression helps the bereaved person to cope with the end of their loved one’s life more quickly. Lack of support or frustration during the mourning period may cause a bereaved person suffer confusion, thus experiencing more devastating and terrifying emotions afterwards.
When I lost my friend, my family and friends were supportive. During the mourning period, they were always at my side, encouraging me as well as supporting me with the funeral arrangements. In fact, many of them offered their friendship by promising to behave the way my friend used to behave towards me. They assured me of their company in going the things that my friend and I used to do together. This helped me to remain calm during the mourning process, and cope with the grief after the funeral. Their continued support helped me to overcome the grief within a short period.
Besides, a bereaved person can cope with the loss by taking care of him/herself. One way to do this is to face the grief feelings; that is, accepting the pain and avoiding feelings of sadness, loss, and loneliness. In addition, one can come up with creative ways of expressing his/her feelings. For instance, when I lost my friend, I made a photo album commemorating her life. I also made sure I engaged in an activity, which we used to do together at least once in a week. This helped me to accept the loss and be able to live without her. Individuals are also advised to take care of their physical health: getting enough sleep, exercising, and eating proper diet. This helps an individual’s body to maintain physical and emotional stability, which is important for quick recovery from any form of loss.
Loss of a loved one can even sometimes lead to death of the bereaved person. Studies indicate that “there can be an up to 70 percent increase in death of the surviving spouse within the first six months after the death of his or her partner” (Dryden-Edwards & Stoppler 3). Apart from death of the surviving partner, loss of a loved one can cause other negative effects such as anxiety. Studies indicate that about 40 percent of bereaved individuals suffer anxiety in the first year after loss of a loved one (Dryden-Edwards & Stoppler 3).
For these reasons, people who are suffering from loss of their loved ones should be provided with the necessary support to avoid occurrence of the instances mentioned above. Support can be provided before occurrence of the death (were the occurrence is known) and after the occurrence. Family members and close friends should provide emotional, social, and financial help during the mourning period and continue the support until the bereaved person overcomes the grief.
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Not all mourning happens after bereavement – for some, grief can start years before the death of a loved one
Lecturer of Health Psychology, Queen's University Belfast
Professor of Social Work in Palliative Care, Queen's University Belfast
The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Queen's University Belfast provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation UK.
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For many people, grief starts not at the point of death, but from the moment a loved one is diagnosed with a life-limiting illness.
Whether it’s the diagnosis of an advanced cancer or a non-malignant condition such as dementia, heart failure or Parkinson’s disease, the psychological and emotional process of grief can begin many months or even years before the person dies. This experience of mourning a future loss is known as anticipatory grief .
While not experienced by everyone, anticipatory grief is a common part of the grieving process and can include a range of conflicting, often difficult thoughts and emotions. For example, as well as feelings of loss, some people can experience guilt from wanting their loved one to be free of pain, or imagining what life will be like after they die.
Difficult to define, distressing to experience
Anticipatory grief has proved challenging to define . A systematic review of research studies on anticipatory grief identified over 30 different descriptions of pre-death grief. This lack of consensus has limited research progress, because there’s no shared understanding of how to identify anticipatory grief.
Therese Rando, a prominent theorist , has proposed that anticipatory grief can help prepare for death, contributing to a more positive grieving experience post-bereavement. Rando also suggests that pre-death mourning can aid with adjustment to the loss of a loved one and reduce the risk of “complicated grief” , a term that describes persistent and debilitating emotional distress.
But pre-death mourning doesn’t necessarily mean grief will be easier to work through once a loved one has died. Other research evidence shows that it’s possible to experience severe anticipatory grief yet remain unprepared for death.
Carers should seek support
Carers of people with life-limiting illnesses may notice distressing changes in the health of their loved ones. Witnessing close-up someone’s deterioration and decline in independence, memory or ability to perform routine daily tasks, such as personal care, is a painful experience.
It is essential, then, for carers to acknowledge difficult emotions and seek support from those around them – especially because caring for a loved one at the end of their life can be an isolating time .
Where possible, it can also be beneficial for carers to offer their loved one opportunities to reflect on significant life events, attend to unfinished business, and to discuss preferences for funeral arrangements. For some, this may involve supporting loved ones to reconnect with friends and family, helping them to put legal or financial affairs in order, talking about how the illness is affecting them, or making an advance care plan .
Talking is key
Living with altered family dynamics, multiple losses, transition and uncertainty can be distressing for all family members . It may be difficult to manage the emotional strain of knowing death is unavoidable, to make sense of the situation, and to talk about dying .
However, talking is key in preparing for an impending death . Organisations who offer specialist palliative care have information and trained professionals to help with difficult conversations, including talking to children about death and dying.
Navigating anticipatory grief can involve self-compassion for both the patient and carer. This includes acknowledging difficult emotions and treating oneself with kindness. Open communication with the person nearing the end of their life can foster emotional connection and help address their concerns, alongside support from the wider circle of family and friends.
Extending empathy and understanding to those nearing death – and those grieving their impending loss – will help contribute to a compassionate community that supports those experiencing death, dying and bereavement.